Fueled by historically low interest rates and record high loan balances, the U.S. new-auto market is likely to top 16 million sales this year, a level unseen since before the 2007-09 Great Recession. And as a modest economic recovery has more Americans driving away with new vehicles, the trade-ins are piling up at the country’s used car lots.
For consumers seeking late-model-year, low-mileage replacements for their clunkers, a recent survey found that up to 20 percent of online listings for some of the most reliable cars in the market are steals right now. With a little online research, cash-strapped or debt-averse shoppers can find cars from as recent as the 2012 model year that still have 150,000 miles of life in them.
"Because so many of these popular, long-lasting models are priced below market value right now, consumers who buy one of these cars are essentially getting an instant coupon for about 10 percent off," said Phong Ly, founder of iSeeCars.com.
Ly analyzed a sample of 400,000 online listings for vehicles from model years 2008 to 2012 known to top 200,000 miles in their lifetimes and found many of them to be priced at below their average used market values. For example, nearly one in 10 used late-model Ford F-150s were lower than the market value for the pickup truck. And with an average of about 54,000 miles, these used trucks still have plenty of life left in them.
IBISWorld, an industry research firm, estimates that about 41 million used cars will trade hands this year. In August, U.S. pre-owned vehicle prices fell for the fourth straight month, according to Manheim Inc., which sells used cars to dealers and tracks prices monthly. This is a reversal from recent years when used car prices were high because of strong demand from consumers amid a bumpy post-recession recovery.
The crash of the auto market in the wake of the recession also caused a steep drop in production of vehicles in 2009 and 2010, creating a shortage of late-model-year used cars.
But now prices seem to be falling as Americans rush to take out loans and grab zero-percent financing deals while they’re still available. Interest rates expected likely to start rising next year.